Two of the most intimidating strikers in world football, Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Poland’s Robert Lewandowski, will line up against each other at Stadium 974 on Wednesday with a World Cup last-16 place at stake.
Messi has already come to Argentina’s rescue in Qatar, and might have to do so all over again in a match with so much on the line.
For Messi, who is playing in likely his last World Cup.As is probably Lewandowski, who rivals Karim Benzema as the best striker in the world.
And for the World Cup as a whole.Because who, really, doesn’t want to see Messi — one of the game’s greatest ever players — in the late stages of a tournament that is heating up so nicely?
A World Cup minus Messi is too much for Argentina fans to take.
It’s why tears were shed on the field, among the technical staff and among the fanbase after Messi scored the crucial second-half goal to set Argentina on their way to a 2-0 win over Mexico on Saturday.
That victory meant Argentina bounced back from the shock 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia in their opening match and now have a fighting chance to avoid a first group-stage exit since 2002.
“Now another World Cup has begun,” said Messi, who will hope to score for the third straight match at this World Cup.He has netted 13 goals for Argentina in 2022 — already a career-high haul in a single calendar year.
But is he fully fit? Messi played the full 90 minutes against Saudi Arabia and also in the Mexico game, which he finished in some discomfort after turning his ankle late on. Messi later confirmed it was nothing serious.
Elsewhere, Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni must decide whether to persist with Lautaro Martinez, who has been well covered in the first two games, or go with another striker in Julian Alvarez.
Likewise, has highly-rated young midfielder Enzo Fernández done enough to force his way into the team after that stunning cameo goal as a substitute against Mexico? And who will Scaloni pick at full-back, having played a different right back and left back in each of Argentina’s games?
As for Poland, some of the weight is off the 34-yearold Lewandowski’s back after he finally scored a goal at a World Cup in the 2-0 win over Saudi Arabia on Saturday.He had uncharacteristically missed a penalty in Poland’s opening draw with Mexico.
Now he’s looking to advance beyond the group stage for the first time at a World Cup.Poland haven’t done so since 1986.
Argentina fans will be aware of the threat of Lewy but they know they have an even bigger icon in Leo, who continues — even in the twilight of his magnificent career — to bend games to his will.
Can he dazzle one more time?
Written with inputs from AP/PTI, Reuters
Group C is wide open with all four teams with a chance to qualify for the Round of 16.The fate of the group, including Lionel Messi’s Argentina’s, will be decided on Wednesday with Argentina facing off against Robert Lewandowski’s Poland at Stadium 974 in Doha while Saudi Arabia and Mexico lock horns at the Lusail Stadium.Both matches kick off concurrently at 12.30am IST (Thursday).
⚫ Argentina beat Poland: This result guarantees Team Messi a berth in the knockout stage.They will then be on six points, which can only be matched by Saudi Arabia if they beat Mexico.Argentina’s superior goal difference over Saudi Arabia means they are in pole position to top the group and avoid meeting France, who are likely to top Group D, in the next round.
⚫ Argentina draw vs Poland: Problem for Messi and Co.They will then be on four points and they will hope Mexico beat Saudi Arabia.
In which case both will be on four points but Argentina have a better goal difference than the North American sideBut they will be second in the group since Poland would be toppers and that means a possible meeting with France.Mexico can only finish over Argentina if they beat Saudi Arabia by three goals or more.If Mexico and Saudi Arabia play out a draw, Argentina and Saudi Arabia will both finish on four points but Argentina will progress courtesy their superior goal difference.
⚫ Argentina lose to Poland: Their World Cup campaign ends.Poland will touch seven points and one of Mexico and Saudi Arabia will reach at least four points.Argentina will be stuck on three points.